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Estonia: Alcohol consumption and harm increased in 2021

06.07.2022 - In 2021, the Estonian population consumed an average of 11.1 litres of absolute alcohol per adult (15+) population, which is 2.3% more than a year earlier. In the background of general wage growth, alcohol has become more available, according to a study commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and conducted by the Estonian Institute of Economic Research. 695 people died of diseases directly caused by alcohol, which is 76 people more than a year earlier and the highest figure in the last 13 years.

In 2021, Estonian residents consumed an average of 11.1 litres (+0.3 litres) of alcoholic beverages per adult (aged 15+) in absolute alcohol, of which the largest share (almost 60%) was light alcoholic beverages, including 4.1 litres of beer, grape wines 2 litres and other mild alcoholic drinks 0.5 litres. Strong alcoholic drinks accounted for 4.5 litres of alcohol consumed, including 2.4 litres of vodka per adult. The increase in consumption was mainly due to an increase in the consumption of strong alcoholic drinks such as whiskey, gin, liqueur, and a small increase in the consumption of beer, wine and other light alcohol. Vodka consumption did not increase.

"As excise duties have been stable, alcohol has become increasingly available in the background of general wage growth. The growth of consumption may also have been facilitated by the long-term closure of catering and accommodation establishments during the pandemic, because then alcohol was bought cheaper for home consumption than the trade,” said Marje Josing, Director of the Estonian Institute of Economic Research. "Unfortunately, Estonia has been moving away from the goal set in the Green Paper on Alcohol Policy that alcohol consumption is permanently below 8 litres of absolute alcohol per capita in recent years. To reduce consumption, measures could be considered to make alcohol less available and to restrict advertising, especially for young people. Excise duties must take account of neighbouring countries in order to prevent the re-emergence of frontier trade. "

In 2021, incomes grew by an average of 6.9%, while the price of alcohol grew by only 0.5% on average. According to EKI's calculations, in 2021, 20 litres of beer or 5 litres of vodka could be purchased in Estonia for an average net monthly salary than a year earlier, 56 litres of beer and 16 litres of vodka more than two years earlier.

Due to the continuation of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, purchases from abroad, purchases of tourists from Estonia and tourists' alcohol consumption on the spot in Estonia decreased further, but sales to Estonian residents increased. Alcohol excise duty amounted to 223 million euros in 2021, which was 12 million euros more than a year earlier, but 5 million less than forecast for 2021. According to EKI, the lower collection of excise duty was caused by a 23% decrease in tourists' purchases of alcohol and local consumption.

According to preliminary data from the National Institute for Health Development, 695 people died of diseases directly caused by alcohol abuse in 2021, which is 76 more than in the previous year. We lost the most lives due to alcohol among people aged 45-64.

"Behind the increase in alcohol-related deaths and presumably other damages is the relatively cheap price of alcohol in recent years, which was facilitated by the economic growth and the reduction of excise duty in 2019 to curb border trade. With this, alcohol became even more favourable and accessible to the people of Estonia. Falling prices across Estonia led to an upward trend in both consumption and alcohol-related deaths. This shows how important it is to maintain consistency in alcohol pricing policy and to act on the basis of well-thought-out economic forecasts,” commented Annika Veimer, Director of National Health Foundation.

"The harm to society from alcohol consumption is far greater than the deaths caused directly by alcohol alone – in addition to alcohol-related road accidents, violence, social problems, temporary or permanent absence from the labour market due to alcohol-related mental health problems or illnesses. Therefore, together we must stop the upward trend in alcohol consumption and related harms," said Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo. "Alcohol consumption is strongly related to the general level of stress in society. By building a comprehensive mental health support system, we can empower people to take responsibility for their own health and health behaviours.”

The consumption volumes presented in the survey have been calculated on the basis of the production data of Statistics Estonia, Eurostat's foreign trade and production of enterprises, and sales in the domestic and foreign markets. In addition, EKI regularly collects retail prices and conducted a survey on the purchase of alcohol abroad and the black market. According to Marje Josing, thanks to the activity of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Estonia, there is a good overview of the alcohol market over many years, so this information should be used more when making new decisions. "The simplest decision may not lead to the desired solution, but alcohol policy must be diverse and based on the best international experience."

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